I remember when Jack Antonoff released “I Wanna Get Better,” and it was this explosive thing, this beautiful, fun and upbeat song about being at your worst and losing your mind and that moment you decide you can lift yourself up. At the time I couldn’t quite get into it. While I could tell it was a great song (with a sweet guitar solo!) it was too happy even in spite of its dark messaging because it indicated hope and light after you hit rock bottom and I wasn’t really keen on any recovery messaging at the time. I was still in a free fall.
But two days ago, I played the new Bleachers track “Don’t Take the Money” while paging through the new Spotify releases and it was like being hit by lightening. What a passionate, powerful pop-rock tune, entirely retro-cool and now, while lyrically diving into deep waters about the anguish of relationships and the inner yearnings we have to be more, to break free, to be true to ourselves. The release totally caught me off-guard, and now has me shuffling through the Bleachers back catalog with fervor. It’s such good stuff! It’s poppy and hooky, but deep and introspective, it’s lucid and vibrant but grounded in its authentic reflection.
While 2014’s Strange Desires is a cohesive introduction to Antonoff’s style and sound, his latest thoughts about his newest single make me think the next record will be even more realized. I loved what he wrote on his Instagram about the song, specifically —
“you know that feeling? when you’ve tried your best to destroy yourself and someone else but it’s too strong to be destroyed? when you’ve tried to fling you a your partner out of an emotional window but you keep landing in heaven? that’s when it’s all clear.”
“Fling your partner out of an emotional window” is probably not a scientific psychiatric term, but I would humbly suggest it ought to be. And speaking to his comments overall, I appreciate Antonoff’s unfiltered attitude toward mental health and the expressive, free way he talks about it. This kind of frankness, this kind of real talk, can go a long way toward reducing stigma and toward making those of us who are feeling less-than-whole and less-than-worthy feel less alone in our struggles.
Because it’s normal to have feelings, even bad ones. And they don’t have to be swept under the carpet, or on the flip side, romanticized into something exotic and taboo. They can just happen, and we are left to deal with them however we can at the time. Antonoff’s own thoughts on being vulnerable while songwriting are worth visiting here in a recent Pitchfork interview; he explains how you don’t have to write about the necessarily be writing about the hard stuff to make cool music, but it’s the hard stuff that he wants to focus on in his songs and with the artists he collaborates with. Though I don’t subscribe to the belief that one *has* to be depressed or suffering in order to make good art, I think creativity is a terrific way to deal with those feelings or work through them — to write about them, to sing about them, to capture them in a photograph. With a little determination and effort, our worst experiences and lower moments might prove to be the breeding grounds for our next best inspiration.
“When you’re looking at your shadow
Standing on the edge of yourself
Preying on the darkness
Just don’t take the money
Dreaming of an easy
Waking up without weight now
And you’re looking at the heartless
Just don’t take the money
You steal the air out of my lungs, you make me feel it
I pray for everything we lost, buy back the secrets
Your hand forever’s all I want
Don’t take the money.”
~Don’t Take the Money